If there’s anything to like about him — and that’s a big if — it is the unquestioning (and more than a little bewildering) passion he brings to his craft. As a martial-arts instructor and self-proclaimed “master of the demo,” he preaches the warrior’s code but rarely exhibits any discipline of his own.
As played by Danny McBride (“Hot Rod”), who sports a close crew cut and prominent mustache to complement his 1,000-yard stare, Simmons is the kind of stupefying, yet strangely charismatic misfit who will likely invite comparison to another antisocial dweeb, Napoleon Dynamite.
Both are narcissists, crass and cringe-worthy. But while Napoleon’s journey was sweet and oddly uplifting, Simmons’ odyssey, with all its setbacks and abject humiliations, is far more sobering.
Perhaps that is what attracted Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, the comedy-writing duo responsible for “Anchorman” and “Talladega Nights,” to “The Foot Fist Way,” a no-budget indie shot during 19 days in North Carolina and first screened two years ago at the Sundance Film Festival.
It was their patronage that earned first-time director Jody Hill, McBride and Ben Best (on hand as a hard-partying Chuck Norris type in need of an attitude adjustment) their deal with MTV Films, and that’s a good thing.
Despite its occasionally sluggish pace and dour tone, “Foot Fist Way” is wickedly profane and very funny, a welcome oddity during a summer dominated by heroes of a less pedestrian bent.
It’s also a showcase for McBride, who never so much as hints at being in on the joke. Sure, he’s ridiculous, but he’s not lacking in conviction. He is the center of his own universe, however uninformed it might be, casually offering up mystifying observations (“Dentistry? I can’t even believe that’s something that’s real.”) in his trademark deadpan.
McBride sells the character with a straight face at all times, making it that much harder to watch when Simmons settles into full-fledged train-wreck mode.
By then, it’s hard not to feel a dash of empathy for this hapless buffoon, especially when he catches his wife and longtime hero (Best) in the act. Beneath all the macho bluster, Simmons has a heart, though you’d never know it as he loudly encourages one of his most vicious pupils to pummel a senior citizen, simply because fighting hard is what you’re supposed to do, always.
That is Simmons’ charm and his curse — as a relentless scrapper in a world intent on beating him down, his spirit and perseverance are eclipsed only by his utter lack of a clue.
The Foot Fist Way (3 stars)
Starring Danny McBride, Ben Best, Mary Jane Bostic, Jody Hill, Collette Wolfe
Written by Ben Best, Jody Hill and Danny McBride
Directed by Jody Hill
Running time 1 hour 25 minutes